An appeal has been launched to commemorate the double anniversaries of the late great opera singer Luciano Pavarotti’s visits to Wales’s top international cultural festival.
This year’s Llangollen International Musical Eisteddfod in July will stage an exhibition to commemorate both the 60th anniversary of Pavarotti’s first visit to the event and also the 20th anniversary of his triumphant appearance in 1995.
The world’s best known tenor burst onto the world stage at the 1955 International Eisteddfod as a slim 19-year-old trainee teacher, part of the Chorus Rossini from Modena in northern Italy which that year won the male choral competition.
That is now the coveted Choir of the World competition for the Pavarotti Trophy, one of the most glittering prizes in the choral world.
This year it will be decided on Saturday, July 11, the centrepiece of the 69th Eisteddfod which runs from Tuesday, July 7, to Sunday, July 12, and which this year will feature a special exhibition dedicated to Pavarotti’s two visits to Llangollen.
He returned in 1995, 40 years after his first visit and Eisteddfod Musical Director Eilir Owen Griffiths said: “He has been one of the towering giants of music in our time and it all began here at Llangollen.
“We have a special link with Pavarotti who graciously agreed to give his name to the Choir of the World Trophy and who never forgot his first visit here and attributed his decision to make music his life to that 1955 success.”
Pavarotti, who died in 2007, had joined his local choir because his father, Fernando, a baker, was a stalwart member and the moment the Modena choir won the competition and the visit to Llangollen left an indelible impression on him and he often spoke of it.
The experience also helped shape his destiny and he once famously said that if he could win the first prize with a small choir from Modena, he could do anything.
He and his father stayed at the home of Alice and William Griffiths, at Beech House, Froncysyllte, for the week of the Eisteddfod and 40 years later Pavarotti would still enquire earnestly about the lady in whose home he had been a guest.
He once said of his time boarding with the Griffiths family in Fron: “I remember well the house I stayed in. All the way from Italy, I was exercising my English. But when we are brought to the house in Llangollen and meet the family, I understand not a word.
“I did not know there was such a language as Welsh. Even now I think how lucky they don’t write operas in such a language for me to sing. I would be out of work. It is impossible for us Italians to learn.”
Pavarotti said many times that he wanted to go back to Llangollen one day and that desire was fulfilled in 1995 when he made a triumphant return to headline at that year’s Eisteddfod, marking the 40th anniversary of his first visit to north Wales.
He accepted an invitation to be President of the Day, on condition that his father could share the Day Presidency with him, so for the first and only time, the Eisteddfod had two joint Presidents of the Day.
Eisteddfod Chairman Gethin Davies was an usher back in 1955 and admits he doesn’t recall the young Pavarotti. He said: “I kept a diary in those days and was looking through it recently and it just said, ‘Male Voice Choir today and a choir from Italy won’. I think I was more interested in my current girlfriend.
“But being an usher was wonderful for a teenager and I used to volunteer to be there all day and I saw people like violinist Yehudi Menuhin and the great Bulgarian bass Boris Christoff.
“I was chairman by the time Pavarotti came back in 1995 and I remember he came on waving his handkerchief and he was great and sang some marvellous stuff, including one of his own composition.
“I watched it recently as they still show the performance on Sky Arts occasionally and he was quite magnificent
“He was a very genial man but just like all the greats there was an inner steel to him as well.
“I do recall that the day he was Day President on the Friday it was the only time I have seen the marquee packed for the Day President’s speech as people usually use the opportunity to slip out.”
That Friday Pavarotti fought his way to the stage through adoring crowds to tell a packed house: “Forty years ago, my God it seems to be just yesterday for me. I have done so many things.
“I always say that to the journalists when they ask me what is a day more memorable in my life, and I always say that it is when I won this competition because it was with all my friends. With me at that time there was a person that I would like to have the privilege to introduce: my Father.”
To tumultuous applause, Fernando Pavarotti walked on stage to join his son, and Pavarotti Jnr declared: “He is stronger than me he has a voice more brilliant than mine – at least that’s what he thinks.”
His father, who spoke no English, then came on stage and charmed the audience by putting his hands together and bowing to them with a beaming smile on his face.
Eilir Owen Griffiths said: “We would very much like to stage an exhibition to commemorate the link with Pavarotti and we have been in touch with the Pavarotti Foundation in Italy to see if they can play some part.
“We would also like to hear from people who may have memorabilia or their memories of Pavarotti’s visits to the Eisteddfod and who would be happy to loan them to us for the exhibition.”
For more information on this year’s Llangollen International Musical Eisteddfod go to the website at www.international-eisteddfod.co.uk or go to the Facebook page www.facebook.com/llangollen